Answering your Content Marketing Questions from #HITMC

This is the first in a two-part series addressing the user-generated questions that were posed during the “unconference” session focused on content at last month’s Health Care IT Marketing and Communications Conference (HITMC). I asked session facilitator Don Seamons of Lumeno Marketing to join me in sharing his answers to each question in his own words. We hope this leads to further discussion, especially for those who were unable to attend the session.

HITMC content marketing
HITMC attendees listed questions about content marketing that were addressed during the “unconference” session.

The 2016 HITMC in Atlanta served up two days of excellent education and networking. Cases in point:

  • Both of us learned a great deal from an “unconference” session on health IT content marketing. Don facilitated an hour-long discussion on content marketing that included about 75 people from across the HITMC spectrum.

The unconference session was jump-started by 11 topics/questions written by HITMC attendees on a poster throughout the show. Don facilitated the session and Jared shared some opinions, but we agreed there was more we wanted to say on these topics. So, through the good graces of John Lynn, our opinions are published for you below. We’d love to see your opinions in the comments section.

1. How is accountable care changing IT marketing?

Don: This is an intriguing question. I can’t say with certainty that accountable care changed the way we market health IT, but it did come to the forefront of the health care industry at about the same time that content marketing was starting to take hold of the marketing profession. Before the Affordable Care Act was passed, not many people in the health care industry understood — or even knew about — the concept of accountable care or its corollary: value-based care. Because it was an unknown, health care organizations were able to shape the thinking around this critical topic through content such as white papers, eBooks, infographics, case studies, videos, etc. Instead of becoming a top-down exercise, opinion was shaped from the bottom up. And as a result, many industry experts who happen to be employed by private for-profit and not-for-profit businesses are seen by the market as thought leaders. That helped build the brand of the organizations for which these experts work, and, at least from my perspective, showed health IT businesses that content marketing works.

Jared: As a result of consumerism in health care being accelerated (not caused) by the ACA, health IT vendors can gain a competitive advantage and position themselves more strongly by adding the voice of the patient in their marketing. While everyone says that they are focused on patients, few actually include the voice of patient advocates and end users in their marketing because it requires moving away from discussing their products or services. Consider learning more about the Society for Participatory Medicine or looking to well-established patient advocates such as Linda Stotsky, Casey Quinlan, “e-Patient Dave” deBronkart, Bernadette Keefe, Hugo Campos and others to better understand what patients truly are demanding from health IT.

2. Is the press release extinct?

Don: There’s a place for the press release in health IT marketing, and there likely always will be. Although the media industry is in flux, journalists and editors still function as gatekeepers to audiences we want to reach. So, here are a few suggestions to keep press releases viable:

  • Have something to say. Press releases have a well-deserved reputation for being uninteresting. Don’t waste your time on something unimportant to your audience.
  • Write well. Nothing bugs an editor more than poorly constructed sentences, spelling errors or grammatical fails.
  • Remember the long tail: If your only purpose for writing the release is to get your corporate keywords on “the wire” and drive search engine traffic, you may think you can get by with a shabby release. But words get read by people, not just bots, and they reflect on your brand forever once they’re online.

Note: The press release as a means for driving Google juice is getting less effective as SEO turns more to social media as a means of assessing relevance.

Jared: The press release still has its place, but not in the same way. The strategy of bombarding media contacts with a steady stream of press releases about your company’s awesomeness is no longer the pipeline to media coverage and is obsolete at best. “Corporate” announcements such as winning industry awards, landing big health systems as clients or hiring a new CIO can still strengthen your brand, but only in smaller doses. The competitive advantages goes to firms that learn how to sprinkle press releases in with a strong presence of engaging content and sharing with influencers.

3. Gating

Don: To gate (put content behind a “gate” via a web form) or not to gate (give away content in the hopes that it will be seen by more people)? That is the question. I say do it. For sure. It’s the means by which modern B2B marketing works. You can’t call someone a lead if you don’t have relevant details on that person. And what’s the point of tracking a person via marketing automation without knowing who you’re tracking and how to contact that person? So have a strategy. In general, make introductory content free, but as the content increases in value to the prospect, start asking questions via forms. Ask a few at a time, then slowly build out your prospect profile.

I must say that I fear that in the nearer-than-comfortable future, we’ll be able to track visitors without gating. Much of the information we’ve shared as web consumers either knowingly or unknowingly is already for sale, and as it becomes more widely available, it’s going to get cheaper and easier to access. But I think for the sake of your brand, you’ll want to build a relationship with prospects that is based on permission and trust. So gate. And offer. And ask.

Jared: This one seems pretty cut and dry for me. Map your content to your sales funnel and determine your objective, as well as consumer expectations, for that type of content. You would typically gate content if your objective is to fill your funnel with actionable prospects whom you can nurture over time.

Be mindful of making a form too long or cumbersome. One session attendee said her analytics showed that the strongest turn-off was making phone number a required field. Find the balance between the amount of information needed at that point in the customer journey and your ability to reach your objectives.

Of course, then I read this article about one company’s decision to do away with all gated content — blog.drift.com/no-more-forms — and wondered if I’m right after all.

4. Quantity vs. quality of content

Don: As a writer who thinks pretty highly of his skills, I say go for quality. Quantity without quality is damaging to your brand. That’s especially true in health care. Tell authentic stories (shout-out to @ctrappe), ones that speak to your expert audience. If they’re not authentic, interesting and well-told, it won’t matter how much content you have.

Jared: I have written and talked a lot about this topic. The answer is more obvious than some want to admit; aim for both! In fact, it’s still highly possible to lose the quantity battle but win the content war. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 76% of B2B content marketers plan to produce more content in 2016. Quantity is important, looks good on the surface and tends to increase top-line traffic. Quality can be more difficult to assess, but quantity means absolutely nothing without it. Focus on finding the angle or expertise that makes you different, and avoid adding to the noise at all costs.

5. Cost

Don: How much should you pay for content? It depends on how much a prospect is worth to you. Marketing value always comes down to return on investment. Good quality content has a cost, but it also has value. As you determine your marketing budget and estimate your lead value, make content part of the equation.

Jared: Common methods to reduce content costs include repurposing content, amplifying well-performing content and curation. (Although I tend to only prescribe curation in moderation.) Budget for owned, earned and paid promotion of your content. The mix of all three tends to give the chance of the best ROI.

6. Distribution options

Don: As distribution options expand, go where your audience goes. We can compare our audience to water. Like water, the audience flows through channels and takes the path of least resistance. As a marketer, it’s been relatively easy in the past to find that path. Television and other mass media were like massive rivers of audiences. We just needed to dip our buckets into the rivers to capture what we could; the bigger the bucket (or the bigger the spend), the more we could capture. But things are different these days. The rivers of mass media have been diverted into smaller channels. It takes some effort to find the creeks and rivulets where our audiences are running. And rather than dipping buckets into the water, we’ve got to get into the water and go with the flow. The mass media rivers, while smaller, are still effective. But the social media creeks are highly targeted and can yield more value in niche markets such as health care IT.

Jared: I assume this is referring to which channels to publish in and the debate of building on “rented” vs. “owned” land. I subscribe to Gary Vaynerchuk’s unconventional answer from his new book, #AskGaryVee:

“Most people try to tell new marketers that they need to own their content and keep it on their own site so they can monetize it, usually with low-paying ads. The problem is that when you’re only posting on your own site you’re at the mercy of the traffic that goes there. For most people that’s not a huge number, or at least it’s not as many visitors as they’d like. But if you post content on sites where the potential for virality isn’t dependent on your popularity but on the quality of your content, you can gain a lot of followers … In short, don’t worry so much about owning and monetizing your content, especially early on. Get it out whatever way you can.”

Stay tuned for part two of the series, and let us know what you think in the comments.

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Jared Johnson

Digital marketing pro, health care communicator, pianist, entrepreneur

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